Twenty five people have been arrested across Northern Ireland in the last five months in a joint operation between police and the National Crime Agency [NCA], protecting 32 children.
Although NCA said it could not reveal if any of theses arrests were made in the Mid Ulster area, four charges have so far resulted from them, with decisions pending in most cases because of ongoing enquiries.
The charges made include making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
Justice Minister David Ford has praised the operation.
“Child sexual exploitation is among the worst crimes committed in our society. It has a devastating effect not only on the child involved but also their family,” he said.
“This is a very positive example of the added benefit of having the National Crime Agency fully operational in Northern Ireland.”
The operation will now continue in an effort to expose further people accessing indecent images of children online.
But had stayed covert until this point in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.
The NCA and PSNI are not revealing the tactics used to track down suspects so they can use the same methodology in future.
NCA CEOP Command Zoe Hilton: “Online images are not a ‘lesser’ form of abuse. Every child in those images has been sexually abused, and every time someone looks at an image that child is victimised again.
“Some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to sexually assault children directly, but not all do.
“Be in no doubt that we can police the internet. It is not a safe haven for accessing indecent images of children, and if you do it you should expect to come to our attention.”
Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, Head of the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, said Northern Ireland has some “very dangerous offenders”, adding: “Tackling the abuse of children is a priority for us. There is this perception that this sort of child abuse goes on elsewhere, not in Northern Ireland.
“The message is clear for those who continue to exploit children online. You leave a digital footprint when you are downloading, viewing, making indecent images of children and we have the capacity, capability and determination to catch you.”
If you have concerns about a child or young person, you can ring police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
You can also report it through the CEOP safety centre at www.ceop.police.uk.
If you receive any inappropriate images or links, it is important that you do not forward it to anyone else.
Contact police or tell a trusted adult immediately. By doing this you could help prevent further such incidents.